Welcome to 'Westworld': An Inside Look at the Comic-Con Experience

For Comic-Con, HBO turned a small corner of San Diego into an amusement park. Here's what happens when you step inside 'Westworld: The Experience.'
Courtesy of HBO

What would you do if you could actually visit Westworld? It's a question everyone who watched HBO's Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy drama asked themselves while it was on — and a few lucky Comic-Con attendees will soon have the chance to discover the answer.

For one extended weekend only, San Diego plays host to an immersive experience based on Westworld, the HBO breakout that earned more than 20 Emmy nominations for its widely acclaimed first season. The series takes place in a future where few things are certain (is the park on Earth? Mars? Another galaxy?), except for the following: Technology is so advanced that illnesses aren't much of a problem anymore, and oh by the way there's a massive amusement park filled with robots who think they're cowboys, Samurai, or some other highly specific profession from any of the unknown number of universes the Delos team has dreamed up.

In addition to its highly anticipated Hall H panel, which coincides with production beginning on season two, Westworld enters Comic-Con with an eye toward giving attendees a taste of what it might be like to spend a half hour or so inside the expansive park. Who could say no to such an opportunity? (Rhetorical question, and does not apply to anyone currently experiencing "Journey into Night.") Here's what happens when you step inside what HBO calls Westworld: The Experience.

First up: How to get to Westworld? A simple question, without a simple answer. Westworld: The Experience is open to all Comic-Con attendees (i.e.: badge holders), as long as they are 21 or older. What's more, the event can only be accessed by appointment. There's an appointment desk at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel, open from Thursday (July 20) through Saturday (July 22), from 9:30 a.m. until all available slots for the day have been filled. The event runs on 30-minute intervals of six people per session, which means it's going to be a tough ticket to get. Appointments are available on a first-come, first-serve basis — so if you want to see if Westworld: The Experience looks like anything to you, best to make that appointment ASAP.

When you arrive at the event's location (which HBO has asked attendees not to disclose), you're greeted by a representative from Delos, the fictional company that owns and operates Westworld. You're taken through a door marked with the Delos logo, and then into a great hall marked by bright white lights, not unlike the show's set design. An impressive array of outfits and weapons — multiple knives, revolvers and the like — are on display in a glass case. The faint and familiar sounds of a player piano call from the distance. 

Just as the urge to break the glass and grab some firearms is about to become too powerful to resist, a Delos rep shows up to guide you into the next step. You pass through a hallway that culminates in two doors: one marked "WW" for Westworld, the other marked "SW" for ... well, we're all pretty sure it means Samurai World, though this section of the park — which was briefly introduced in the season one finale — remains officially unnamed. Listen closely, and you can hear the clanking of swords. The Delos rep makes it clear that for today, you're only going to have access to Westworld. The mysteries of "Samurai World," if that is indeed its true name, will remain under lock and key for the time being.

Moments later, individuals are taken into small fitting rooms where well-dressed Delos employees begin what's essentially an interrogation. Questions include:

1. "Have you ever been to Westworld before?"

2. "Have you ever stayed at a luxury resort?"

3. "If you could push a button and cure all of the world's ails but you would have to cut the population in half, would you push the button, have someone else push the button, or destroy the button and the people who invented it?"

You know, softballs.

At one point, the representative asks you to raise a hand. You're then told to imagine that you're in a dire situation, and the only way out is to part with one of your fingers. Which one do you choose? When you make your selection, you're to mark the digit with a big, fat X. Spoiler alert: There is no discernible follow-up to the "sever the finger" question. As near as one can tell, you're just drawing an X on your finger for no reason, unless someone's coming for the digit in a few days. Will report back in case of any sudden finger departures. 

The interrogation leads to the decision you knew was coming: white hat, or black hat. Much like an online personality quiz, it's possible to game the system. Watch the video below to see how it worked out for me:

Once your hat is selected (black hat, in my case; you know what they say: "When in Roman World ..."), you'll stand in front of a full-length mirror to see what you look like as your new Westworld avatar. There's a flickering in the mirror, and something that looks like a humanoid figure on the other side of the glass. It happens so fast, that it's impossible to know what exactly is behind the mirror. Ask the Delos rep, and you will only receive a familiar refrain: "That doesn't look like anything to me."

With hat in hand (or on your head as it were), you proceed down a corridor toward a welcome video. It's similar to the one seen in the actual show, when visitors first arrive at the park. It soon becomes clear that something's wrong with the video: It glitches, and Evan Rachel Wood's Dolores Abernathy starts reciting bone-chilling verses that clearly stem from her new Wyatt personality. Toward the end of the video, you see what appears to be new footage from season two: the Man in Black (Ed Harris) sitting at a bar, blood spatter all over his face, but otherwise looking as cool and collected as ever. Not bad for a man now living in a park overrun by the hosts, not to mention sustaining a gunshot wound to the arm. (Pay close attention to your Host escort here.)

After the video ends, you're ushered into your final destination of the evening: the Mariposa Saloon. A robust bar staff works diligently to create compelling cocktails for you and the others in your party. In our case, a lovely host named Jewels struck up conversations with the various guests. (In case you're wondering, she's a whiskey fan.) The bartenders concoct three different cocktails: a Sherry Punch, a Blue Blazer (which includes a neat fire trick), and a Milk Punch. True to two of the drinks' names, all three beverages pack a punch. Free advice: Do not enter Westworld on an empty stomach.  

Boozy drinks and nice company notwithstanding, the main draw of the Mariposa is one of the same things that made Westworld so memorable in the first place: the player piano, the same one heard briefly and faintly in the distance upon arrival. According to Jewels, the piano is operated by a ghost. The ghost does not have a name, which means this black hat had to give it one: Gary. Subsequent guests later revealed that Jewels continued to use the name Gary to describe the ghost. If you visit the Mariposa and you learn about Gary the ghost, you now know who to blame.

What he lacks in corporeal form, Gary more than compensates in his ability to play some killer tunes, including many that were featured during Westworld's first season: the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black," Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)," Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun." Gary even played a rendition of Ramin Djawadi's Emmy-nominated Westworld theme song, as well as another familiar Djawadi and HBO tune. Check it out in the video below:

After about 15 minutes inside the saloon, sipping beverages and soaking in music, a Delos rep arrives to take you home. That's it for the experience. No weapon selection, no shoot 'em ups, no side quests ... just some fine booze and fine tunes, all gone in the blink of an eye. Much like a real vacation, it's all gone too soon — not unlike the actual Westworld experience, one imagines.

Oh, one more prize: the hat. You get to keep it. Choose wisely.

Follow THR.com/Westworld for all of our coverage of the HBO drama.

Special thanks to THR contributor Chris E. Hayner for video and photos.

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